There is an illusion taking place in college admissions where our perceptions of colleges and their acceptance rates is a reality from the past. Many of the colleges that were once considered "party schools," "safeties," or simply easy to get admitted to are fast becoming some of the most selective colleges in the country.
Yet not everyone knows this.
Families are shocked when I tell them that Northeastern University's acceptance rate was 6.7% last year. The University of Miami's acceptance rate was 19%. Auburn University's acceptance rate went from 71.1% to 43.7% in just one year. It is a hard adjustment to make in our minds that colleges that were once viewed as less selective are now the opposite.
So much has changed from when we, as parents, applied to college. We need to be able to move past our preconceived ideas of certain colleges, and find out how selective a college really is right now in order to ensure that our children's college list matches up with their academic profile. Knowing an acceptance rate before a student applies can be the difference between an acceptance and a denial. But getting our hands on that admissions data is harder than one might think.
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When I am creating a college list for a student, I tell them never to rely on outside sources for admissions data. If it is not coming from the college itself, it is not usually accurate or up-to-date. Instead, I want them looking for a college's acceptance rate in the following places:
1. Some colleges will provide the acceptance rate for the most recent cycle right on the admissions website.
For example, one does not have to look far on the Tulane University admissions website before they find the profile for the Class of 2026. In bold "Tulane Green," they list their shockingly low acceptance rate as 8.4%.
2. Most colleges will update their Common Data Set every year, which is available on the college's website, and this document includes the number of applicants they received and the number of acceptances.
You can do the math yourself and figure out the college's acceptance rate as long as it is the most up-to-date information, as one year can make a big difference. We saw this with Auburn's 27 percentage point drop in its acceptance rate in just one year. It is a reminder to students to check acceptance rates when they start making a college list in their earlier years of high school and again when they finalize it in early fall of senior year.
3. IPEDS, which stands for Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, also provides acceptance rates for colleges.
But again, make sure it is the most recent admissions data. I looked up the University of Tampa on IPEDS which had the university's fall of 2021 data. IPEDS listed the acceptance rate as 53.5%. I know acceptance rates like the back of my hand, so I knew this was outdated.
4. If you cannot find the acceptance rate, call the admissions office!
And be sure to speak with the admissions officer on duty, not a student worker. When our team contacted the University of Tampa this morning, they indicated that their acceptance rate was now 26%. That essentially makes this university a "highly selective" one, where only the highest-achieving students have a good chance of admission.
5. And if the college does not publicly share its acceptance rate, do not apply there.
It is withholding necessary information from families in order to fuel its applicant pool and become even more selective than ever before. For example, Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and Princeton University refuse to provide admissions data to the public. What else are they hiding?
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Getting into college should not be a mystery. But it takes a very diligent family to dig around and find out admissions data that should be easily accessible to all. We cannot rely on our past perceptions of colleges or even admissions data from the past year. In this landscape of rapidly declining acceptance rates, we must have accurate and up-to-date information on the most recent admissions cycle from every college in the U.S. If not, students will assume they have a chance of admission when the reality is far from that.